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Can You Sous-Vide Steak Now and Sear It Later?

Cook it twice, eat it once: When you need to plan ahead or feed a crowd, pre-cooked sous-vide steak can be a boon.

In the past few years, it seems like everyone has been talking about how to cook sous-vide.

It is difficult to go a day without seeing articles, recipes, and videos online raving about the cooking method and how to use it with all your favorite foods. It gained popularity throughout the 2000s, but this style of cooking, and its namesake device, have actually been around since the mid-1970s.

What is sous-vide? The name translates from French “under vacuum” and refers broadly to a cooking method where foods can be sealed and heated under pressure.

The device used for this preparation shares the name sous-vide with the aforementioned cooking method. They are available for use in home kitchens and commercial restaurants alike. The French have long been known as culinary innovators, which is why French cuisine and techniques remain some of the most widely studied to this day.

The sous-vide manages to combine the benefits of existing methods like pressure-cooking and braising while isolating the food from the heat source. While this can lead to longer cook times, it gives a cook more control over the variables involved.

We will delve deeper into the mechanics of sous-vide cooking momentarily, so read on to find out how it all works. When striving to be a better home cook, it’s easy to find a disconnect between the science and the craft of it all.

Sous-vide is a perfect “equalizer” in this regard, where the mechanics is pure science, yet the final products are generally more consistent than ones we’d create through simpler methods.

Whether or not a sous-vide ends up being the new favorite item on your kitchen counter, learning about how it works will make you a better-informed home cook!

So What is Sous-Vide, Exactly?

We’ve explored the basic concept of sous-vide, but what does it look like in your kitchen? And have you seen one in action through the service window at your favorite restaurant?

In both contexts, the device itself is a heat regulator that attaches to whatever vessel you’ll be heating your food in, like a pot. When cooking sous-vide at home, you can use the same pot you would use to cook pasta. In restaurants, it could be a large stockpot or hotel pan.

You must separate the food being cooked from the environment in which it’s being heated. In this case, the water in your vessel of choice. Separating the food from the heat source is usually achieved by placing the food in a vacuum-sealable bag. No aromas or juices are lost this way, even when something is cooked for a substantially longer duration than usual.

Steaks and duck breasts can be cooked to the exact desired doneness, and pork and poultry can be carefully brought to a safe temperature for consumption without becoming dry or flavorless. No flavors are discarded during the cooking process, giving the chef greater control over their final product.

Is Sous-Vide Cooking Right for You?

Chances are that even if this all sounds alien to you, you have likely consumed food at your favorite restaurants prepared with sous-vide. The previous examples of duck breasts or steak are common fare to cook in this manner, as they can be prepared in advance.

We will discuss steak in this context momentarily. Many restaurants will take these prepared products and sear them when ordered, to save time during a busy kitchen rush.

There are also many examples of sous-vide bringing meats to life that would otherwise be discarded or used to make stocks. Most enthusiastic cooks know that tougher cuts of meat or organ meats, like offal, can be transformed through techniques like braising, but the sous-vide takes this to another level.

Canadian restaurant Maison Publique in Montreal uses sous-vide preparation to cook deer tongue for three full days before serving it to customers, transforming it from inedible, to a melt-in-your-mouth winter dish.

Sous-Vide: A Perfect Cooking Method for Steak

If a sous-vide sounds like the next step in your home cooking journey, a great place to start is steak.

Cooking a steak sous-vide will teach us some of the basics of this technique. It will also teach us how to overcome one of its few limitations: achieving a nice texture on the outside of the meat. In a braise or roast, this would traditionally be accomplished by browning the meat, but when using a sous-vide, it is best to leave this process till the end, much like a reverse sear.

Many proteins benefit from salting in advance, and steak is no exception. Ample time allows the salt to penetrate the meat, and since you will need to enclose your steak in a bag anyway, why not salt before vacuum sealing it?

Roughly 24 hours is enough time for this process to occur, so pat your steaks with salt and place the vacuum-sealed bag(s) in the fridge overnight.

After this is complete and you are ready to get cooking, sous-vide the steak to your desired level of doneness.

Sous-Vide Now, Sear Later?

Wondering whether you can do this early in the day and sear it later? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

However, once the sous-vide is turned off, be sure to submerge the vacuum bag in an ice bath to prevent it from continuing to cook. This will also get your steak closer to a refrigerator temperature before you put it away while avoiding the dangerous temperatures between refrigerated and hot that are unsafe for storing meat.

What is important is to not leave the steak out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours. As soon as the sous-vide cooking time is up, cool it down and store it in your fridge. According to the USDA, vacuum-sealed steak will keep for 3-4 weeks, provided it is unopened and refrigerated continuously.

Are you having a dinner party? Prepare as many steaks as needed, then refrigerate them to save a step while you’re mingling with guests. Live alone but want to enjoy restaurant-quality steak after a long afternoon at work?

Prepare this during your lunch break, and you will be 10 minutes from a delicious meal once it’s time for dinner.

What’s the last step for your after-work meal or dinner party? Searing the steak! Using a hot pan or grill, and watching your steak like a hawk, cook each side of your meat (yes, even the small sides) until they are a beautiful brown color. Look for grill lines if using a BBQ.

This process utilizes the Maillard reaction to give diners a desirable outer crust. It is a step that cannot be achieved with a sous-vide alone. The insides will be the perfect doneness that we associate with sous-vide cooking, and the outside will be a texture unachievable without the rapid application of high heat.

We Wish You Success

Can you sous-vide steak now and sear it later? Absolutely, you can. And, now, you know how to do so. Not only is this an excellent way to manage time spent in the kitchen, but it’s also perfectly safe and will yield delicious results.

Cooking sous-vide is a relatively simple technique that will produce complex flavors. It can be adapted to other proteins and seasonings as well. Try it with duck, or add some aromatics like garlic and rosemary to your sealed steak bags!

Aside from just producing a delicious meal, this technique provides an excellent way to get to know your sous-vide, “sealing in” (pun intended) some skills you may already know, and teaching you a little more about how the process works. Read up, have fun while you’re at it, and cheers to great steak!